Kirsten Grønbech, Vicar in Elsinore and Elsinore Castle

This week, the OWL has spoken to Kirsten who is a vicar in The Church of Denmark, an Evangelical Lutheran Church

Kirsten and Sille

I’ve been in my current job since I qualified in 1993, aged thirty-five.

In order to become a vicar in Denmark you must have a postgraduate theology degree. After university, you spend six months learning the practical side to the job at a pastoral seminary. Initially, I had read French, but I swapped to theology due to my fascination with the subject. That said, it took me a while to get used to imagining myself as a vicar rather than a French teacher. But I am fond of my job. It provides me with the opportunity to engage with all kinds of people under all kinds of circumstances.

My husband and I live in the rectory with our dog Sille. This is in the part of the building that used to house the convent when the church was a monastery back in the 15th century. I am also the vicar at the nearby Elsinore Castle, locally known as ‘Hamlet’s Castle’!

My days vary a great deal. I perform christenings, weddings and funerals and these things cannot always be planned to fit the vicar’s schedule.

A typical Monday could look like this: I get up at seven, and after my shower and daily exercises, I collect the mail. We have a large, formal garden and the mailbox is down by the road so this provides me with the opportunity to take Sille for a short walk before she has her breakfast. She gets a whole bone, so that I can read the local paper in peace without her piercing eyes begging for seconds.

I spend much time at my desk preparing lectures, sermons and eulogies or replying to emails. In Denmark, the church has an administrative as well as a religious function in that it’s the church that registers civil matters, so I am responsible for registering births, marriages and deaths, etc. and for issuing the relevant certificates. My clerical assistant carries out much of this work, however, it is my responsibility that we adhere to Danish laws and regulations.

10-11 is our office hour, during which people can pop in or telephone to arrange appointments. Sometimes I speak to relatives who have lost their loved ones. We have a thorough conversation, so that I can write a proper, personal eulogy. It’s important to pay a great deal of attention during such conversations and one needs to read between the lines, paying particular attention to things that aren’t said. Otherwise, things can go very wrong. On other days, I might be going over the marriage service with a young couple. We also receive a large number of requests from couples abroad – England, Hong Kong or perhaps Bangkok – who wish to be married at Elsinore Castle and then we do what we can to make that happen. At other times, I may be speaking to a young family about the upcoming christening of their baby.

Another responsibility of mine is to teach the Christian faith to young people before they are confirmed. (This isn’t actually on Mondays but always on Thursdays), they are fourteen years of age so they can be a handful, but they are always lively.

At eleven o’clock, it’s playgroup. Then local mothers come to the church with their babies and we sing and dance, and play with the little ones. Amongst this years intake we have a set of twins, so I get to ‘borrow’ one, during play, which is great fun.

Another great part of the job – although it came about due to tragic events – is a meeting with a group of female refugees from Syria, Afghanistan and Eritrea. Their Danish language tutor has suggested the visit, so that the newcomers can hear about my job and what it’s like to be a female vicar. In their home countries, women do not have the same opportunities, and I am thrilled that they are interested in hearing about this subject. (In Denmark, the first female clergy were ordained in 1948. Progress was slow, but nowadays over half of Danish vicars are female).

The Parochial Council, made up of locally elected representatives, together with the vicar, are responsible for ensuring that the Christian faith is proclaimed to all members of the parish. We hold regular meetings about the planning of the work and, not least, the church finances. The Council, however, do not influence the theological line, that is left entirely to the vicars.

My husband is an organist in another church. This is quite practical because we both work anti-social hours and it can be difficult for some people to have a spouse who works every Sunday and occasionally also in the evenings. I believe this is one reason the divorce rate amongst female vicars is very high. My husband and I have been together since 1975, so it is possible to make it work. (There’s a saying in Denmark that many spouses of female vicars suffer from Prince Henrik syndrome, a reference to our Queen’s husband who sometimes struggles in his role).

During the week, I am busier than my husband, so it’s normally left to him to do the shopping and prepare dinner, and I am very privileged that my supper is on the table at 6.30 sharp. Sometimes he gets fed up and then I take over for a while although after about a week of my cooking things soon return to normal, which is great for me!

In the evening, it’s my turn to take Sille for her walk so after dinner we go out for an hour. We vary our route so that nobody gets bored. There’s a great walk around Elsinore Castle from where we can see Sweden across the strait. Alternatively, we walk in the woods or on the beach, although during the dark evenings that lie before us now, we tend to prefer the well-lit streets in town. Sille loves it because there’s lots of unfinished snacks on the street that people have thrown all over the place although the two of us sometimes disagree on what constitutes appropriate dog treats.

Although my days are busy I make time for choir practice, it’s amateur but at quite a high level and we perform full orchestra pieces. If it’s been a long day, I do have to drag myself to rehearsals but any tiredness is forgotten once we all come together to create beautiful music.

I’ve only got one weekly day off, so I’m careful how I spend it. Sometimes I go for a walk in the woods with a colleague. Then we talk about the heavier stuff occupying our minds. As vicars, we are bound by confidentiality and there can be very serious matters people have shared with us that we are dealing with alone. Talking such things over with a trusted colleague bound by the same confidentiality can lighten this burden.

My days vary a great deal but they’re always about people and their lives with everything that entails, and that is extremely fulfilling.

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